LOGAN, Utah – Utah State’s home opener against North Dakota proved to be a special one for grad senior outside linebacker Cash Gilliam.
Not only did the native of Dayton, Ohio, record six tackles and a quarterback hurry in the Aggies’ 48-24 win, but he did so with a special someone in the stands: his mother, Donna Ellis. It was the first time she had seen her son play since he began his collegiate career at Kentucky.
Ellis was diagnosed with early onset dementia (EOD) in 2019 and since then, Gilliam and his sisters have done everything in their power to make sure the matriarch of the family is properly taken care of.
In fact, Gilliam left Utah State during the 2020 campaign and returned home to Ohio so he could be closer to his mother.
We caught up with Gilliam to discuss how he and his family are dealing with his mother’s EOD, returning to Utah State, his love for cooking and whether he considers a hot dog a sandwich.
USU: How fun has this season been so far for you and your teammates?
Gilliam: It’s been really fun, just for the simple fact that we worked so hard in the summer to become united and really build a brotherhood, and now you’re seeing the fruits of our labor.
USU: Why did you enter the NCAA transfer portal last year?
Gilliam: For a couple of reasons. I had caught COVID, so I missed a couple of weeks, and by that point, my mom was in a bad place with her living situation, so I felt like it was in the best interest for me to get home to be with my mother.
USU: Why did you decide to come back to Utah State?
Gilliam: My sister moved to Ohio to help take care of my mom, or else I would not have been able to come back. When she told me she was going to move to Ohio to help take care of my mom, I talked to a couple of my mentors and they just said, ‘If you don’t have to transfer, then don’t. Just see what the new coaching staff is talking about and see if they would be interested in having you.’ I talked to some of the coaches when they were at Arkansas State, too, so I was familiar with a couple of them. I just reached back out and asked if they would be interested in having me at Utah State, and seeing what they were about, seeing what type of defense they were going to run and seeing what position they were going to have me play. It all worked out.
USU: How difficult has it been on you and your family since your mom was diagnosed with early-onset dementia?
Gilliam: It really sucked, just because we don’t have a lot of resources as far as insurance and money. She obviously can’t get a job. I’m still in college, but my sister has a pretty decent nice-paying job, and then my other sister works for (a Christian) church, so she goes overseas for two months, then comes back home to work for the church for two months. We don’t really have the funds to get her a proper living situation, that’s really been the biggest thing. Her attitude about the whole situation is crazy, though. She is still happy as can be, but it is really just stressful on us, her kids, because we want her to have a place she can call home. Nobody wants their mother bouncing around. My sister had to go on a work trip to Dallas for five days and my mom stayed with my best friend’s mom. She was nice enough to let my mom stay there while my sister went on a work trip. So, it’s just stuff like that. It would be nice if my mom could have a place to call her own.
USU: Was the North Dakota game the first time your mom had seen you play in a while?
Gilliam: Yes sir. She used to go to games when I was at Kentucky, but I redshirted my first year and just played on special teams my second year. A couple of weeks ago against North Dakota, that was the first game she had seen me play since then and I started and played a lot of snaps. She was excited about that for sure. She loves football, and that’s probably her getaway. She loves talking about it and watching it.
USU: When you began your collegiate career at Kentucky, did you ever imagine you would be ending it at Utah State?
Gilliam: I’m not even going to lie to you. I didn’t even know Utah State existed; I had never heard of Utah State, honestly. I heard Utah being in the Pac-12, but when I was in junior college, I finally heard about Utah State. My friend played at Michigan State and I was like, ‘Man, you almost lost to Utah State, and then a couple of months later, I ended up playing at Utah State.
USU: How long have you and Jaylin Bannerman known each other?
Gilliam: We actually played AAU basketball together during our freshman and sophomore years of high school. He is from Columbus; I played on a really good AAU team in Columbus and I used to drive down there once a week to practice. It was like an hour away, so I didn’t go to every practice. When I was getting recruited to Kentucky, I had committed and my recruiting coordinator said, ‘We need Jaylin Bannerman.’ I was like, ‘Jaylin Bannerman? He plays basketball.’ And my recruiting coordinator said, ‘Yeah, he’s a 6-5 D-end. We need him here.’ I’m like, ‘All right.’ So, I reached out to him and ended up helping him come to Kentucky. It’s crazy how it all worked out.
USU: Outside of football, what do you enjoy doing?
Gilliam: I enjoy cooking. I’m one of the top-three best cooks on the team. I’m not going to say I’m No. 1; I’ll let the people decide that, but I love to cook and I know how to cook very well.
USU: What is your favorite dish to cook?
Gilliam: I’ve got this shrimp steak Cajun alfredo. It’s really good. It’s like seafood alfredo, but Cajun style.
USU: What is your favorite thing to eat?
Gilliam: My favorite thing to eat, and you can ask anybody on the team, coaches included, is a cheeseburger, and I probably eat a cheeseburger once a day. I probably eat the most cheeseburgers on the team and if we had a cheeseburger eating contest, nobody would beat me.
USU: Where did the nickname “Cash” come from?
Gilliam: They used to call my big brother Cash. He kind of grew out of that, so they started calling me that. It just stuck. I still go by Tobias, too. I don’t care if people call me by my first name. My mom calls me TB. She doesn’t call me Cash or Tobias, she calls me TB. If you are really close to me, like one of my family members, you’re going to call me TB. Everybody else uses Cash or Tobias.
USU: What is your pre-game ritual?
Gilliam: Every night before the game, I have to get a cheeseburger. I don’t think I’ll play well if I don’t get a cheeseburger. I can be at an away game, and I’m going to order a cheeseburger on DoorDash, no matter what. If we are at home, I am going to cook a cheeseburger, for sure, the night before the game. Home or away, I have to have a cheeseburger within 24 hours of the game.
USU: How would you survive a zombie apocalypse?
Gilliam: I would probably get with somebody like Connor Coles, who is from Montana, or get with another teammate who is from Idaho, and stay with them. I feel like they would be the last people to survive – those would be the last places a zombie would go to get somebody. I’d probably go tell Connor Coles that I am going to Montana with him.
USU: What would be the coolest animal to scale to the size of a horse?
Gilliam: I’d make a mongoose big, because they are so fast, I want to see if it would turn into an apex predator. They can take a licking. They can handle a venomous snake bite, which is why I think they would be an apex predator if they could get to the size of a horse. Nobody would be messing with a mongoose then.
USU: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Gilliam: A hot dog could definitely be a sandwich. It’s like a sub. You can dress it up just like a sandwich, so I consider a hot dog a sandwich.
USU: If animals could talk, which one would be the rudest?
Gilliam: A kangaroo. There is something wrong with kangaroos.
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